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What kind of moron news channel would report something like that!
Great, watch the reporter go commit suicide now...
__________________ Do Not Put Aftershave on Your Balls. -604CEFIRO Looks like I'm gonna have some hot sex again tonight...OOPS i got the 6 pack. that wont last me the night, I better go back and get the 24 pack! -Turbo E kinda off topic but obama is a dilf - miss_crayon Honest to fucking Christ the easiest way to get a married woman in the mood is clean the house and do the laundry.....I've been with the same girl almost 17 years, ask me how I know. - quasi
BTW not to bump my own post, but if you skipped it you should really take a minute to read it. I know it's "wordy" and technical but it is worth seeing. It gives a glimpse into the model of learning that is done in Asia, and how it can relate to real world performance.
One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and reported on every training session. ... a database was building on me (and everyone else) that told them exactly how I ran the sessions, what to expect on checks, and what to look out for.
I used to open an aft cargo door at 100 knots to get them to initiate an RTO ... This was on the B-737 NG and many of the captains were coming off the 777 or B744 and they were used to the Master Caution System being inhibited at 80 kts ... Well, for the first few days after I started that, EVERYONE rejected the takeoff. Then, all of a sudden they all “got it” and continued the takeoff (in accordance with their manuals). The word had gotten out. I figured it was an overall PLUS for the training program.
Read Outliers? I guess you're airplane crash expert.
No where did I blame it on the korean culture. Read the post again. I was just thinking about this and how it was a coincidence that it was a korean airline, and how it reminded me of gladwell's discussing korean airlines higher accident rates due to their culture.
no where in my post did I claim to be an airline pilot expert.
I guess Bill Maher won't ever fly commercial to and from Asia.
Originally Posted by Bill Maher
If future historians need to know how humans could ruin their planet out of pure selfish greed, they just have to look at this picture of people who won't get off a burning plane without their luggage.
A few weeks ago, I attended a PGA golf tournament. You might think watching golf is boring, but I beg to differ: professional golf tournaments offer a chance to witness firsthand one of the amazing athletic feats in the world.
If an ordinary weekend golfer made ten great shots in a row, that might be the best day of her golfing life. If I saw two ordinary weekend golfers making ten great shots in a row at the same time, I would start exclaiming out loud after each shot and buy a round of beer for both of them. Now, imagine watching a hundred fifty golfers playing, in a championship golf course that is designed to leave a very small margin of error. Imagine watching virtually every one of them knocking off ten great shots in a row. The good players may hit 20 or 30 great shots in a row; the best ones, 40, 50, 60 great shots. This is why a golf tournament is so exciting: it is a collective display of perfection, shown over and over and over again.
Against the backdrop of such perfection, errors become magnified. The mistakes end up drawing more attention than the shots well hit. If all three golfers in a group hit the perfect drive, such that their balls are a foot away from one another's in the middle of the fairway, the gallery would give a polite applause. But if one of the golfers shanks it into the woods, the gallery would exhale a downcast "ooh," and hurry toward the golf ball among the trees like buzzards toward a rotting carcass.
I am not an exception; watching a tournament, I also fixate on the golfers' mistakes. When I see a golfer hitting a poor shot, I take a moment trying to recreate the swing in my mind, trying to see if I could identify what went wrong. I picture the golfer making his approach to the ball; the stance; the back swing; the alignment of the club head when the back swing reaches the top; the down swing; location of the hip during the down swing; the follow-through. Then I think about the path of the ball flight, and try to identify which part of the swing contributed to the deviation from the intended path.
And then I do something peculiar. I look up which country the golfer is from. And if I happen to remember a poor shot from a different golfer of the same country, I try to see the bigger picture in addition to their respective swings. I start wondering if there is something about that country's culture that affects their golf swings. In the particular golf tournament attended, I saw two Canadian players hitting a poor shot. One golfer hit it short in the 10th hole, dropping the ball into the water. The other, in the narrow 16th hole, badly sliced the drive and ended up in the woods. Quickly, I mustered every scrap of knowledge I had about Canadian culture in my head, and I tried to connect the dots: is there something about Canadian culture that leads to poor golf shots by two different golfers at two different holes?
Just kidding--of course I am kidding. Obviously, I did not think about connecting Canadian culture and poor golf shots, nor do I ever try to connect any national culture with poor golf shots. Nobody in the right mind would do such a thing. We all know that.
But if we all know that, why do so many people do the same thing when it comes to airplane crashes?
This post is about the Asiana Airline's crash-landing in the San Francisco Airport last Saturday. It is also about culturalism. The term "culturalism" is my coinage, which I introduced the concept several years ago in this blog. Culturalism is the unwarranted impulse to explain people's behavior with a "cultural difference", whether real or imagined. Because the culturalist impulse always attempts to explain more with culture than warranted, the "cultural difference" used in a cultural explanation is more often imagined than real. To paraphrase Abraham Maslow, to a man with a culturalist impulse, every problem looks like a cultural problem.
Seen collectively, landing an aircraft is not unlike a golf tournament. It is not an easy task to land a giant, fast-moving tube of metal onto a small, defined target while keeping everyone inside the tube alive. Each landing of a jumbo jet may as well be a small miracle. Yet, like a golf tournament filled with the world's greatest players, air travel is a marvelous display of perfection: airplanes manage to land millions of times every year with very few accidents. (Let us be charitable to the much-maligned airline industries, and define an "accident" as something more significant than a delayed flight or lost luggage.) It is common knowledge that you are much more likely to die in the car that you drive to the airport, than in the airplane that you board at that airport.
Perhaps we focus so much on a plane crash for the same reason that golf watchers focus more on a poor shot than a good one: it is a rare deviation from perfection. Like the golf gallery surrounding an errant ball landed among the trees, we surround and gawk at every minute detail of the latest airplane crash. We run through all kinds of scenarios about what went wrong, and talk about them. We explain, then we over-explain--which is when the culturalist impulse kicks in. Already, venerable news organizations like CNN, the Washington Post and NBC News are wondering aloud: did Korean culture contribute to this extremely rare event?
In the public musing about the relation between Korean culture and airplane crashes, one name features prominently: Malcolm Gladwell. It is fair to say that Gladwell is the fountainhead of culturalist explanation of plane crashes. In his best-selling book Outliers, Gladwell penned a chapter called "The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes." In the chapter, Gladwell draws a connection between national cultures and frequency of airplane crashes. In an interview discussing this topic, Gladwell had said: "The single most important variable in determining whether a plane crashes is not the plane, it’s not the maintenance, it’s not the weather, it’s the culture the pilot comes from."
I will say this about Malcolm Gladwell: I like his writing, which oozes with intellect that enables him to see angles that many people miss. As a golf fan, I thought Gladwell's assessment of Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson was so spot-on that I printed out Gladwell's quote and taped it in front of my desk. However, at this point, the record is clear that Gladwell sometimes finds himself speaking and writing about topics that are out of his depth, leading to head-scratchingly elementary mistakes. The most notable is Gladwell's gaffe with "igon value," illustrated in a book review by Steven Pinker:
Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “sagittal plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.
-Malcolm Gladwell, Eclectic Detective [New York Times]
Korean culture features prominently in Gladwell's culturalist explanation of plane crashes, as he uses Korean Air's 1997 crash as one of the prime examples. In fact, the articles about the latest Asiana crash that call attention to Korean culture either directly refer to Gladwell's exposition in Outliers, or indirectly summons the spirit of Gladwell's argument by invoking Korean Air's 1997 crash.
I am not in a position to opine on Gladwell's analysis of any other matter. But when it comes to Gladwell's explanation of Korean culture, I can confidently say that he is dead wrong. In fact, Gladwell's treatment of Korean culture is so far off the mark, that his "igon value" error appears trivial in comparison.
* * *
Gladwell's Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes goes like this: in landing an airplane, especially in tough circumstances (such as bad weather, older aircraft, etc.,) communication within the piloting crew is critically important. When signs of danger appear, at least one of the two or three pilots in the cockpit must spot such signs and alert the others. Certain cultures, however, have characteristics within them that make such communication more difficult. For example, some culture expects greater deference to authority than others. This leads to a situation in which a lower-ranking pilot hesitates to communicate the danger signs to the higher ranking pilot. Some culture employs a manner of speech that is indirect and suggestive, rather than direct and imperative. This leads to a situation in which one pilot merely suggests the danger signs to another pilot, when a more urgent approach may be necessary.
Gladwell uses the 1997 Korean Air crash to illustrate this point. In 1997, Korean Air Line Flight 801, a Boeing 747 jet, crash-landed Guam, killing 225 of the 254 on board. The accident occurred because, in a bad weather, the captain relied on a malfunctioning equipment to assess the plane's position, and believed the airplane was closer to the airport than it actually was. As the plane was approaching the ground, six seconds before the impact, the first officer and the flight engineer noticed first that the airport was not in sight. Both called for the captain to raise up the plane again, and the captain did attempt to do so. But it was too late: Flight 801 rammed into a hill, three miles before it reached the airport.
How did Korean culture figure into this situation? Gladwell first notes that in Korean culture, there is a respect for hierarchy. Gladwell also notes that Korean manner of speaking is indirect and suggestive, requiring the listener to be engaged and applying proper context to understand the true meaning. This is particularly so when a lower-ranked person addresses the higher-ranked person: to express deference, the lower-ranked person speaks indirectly rather than directly.
According to Gladwell, Flight 801's first officer and flight engineer noticed a problem long before six seconds prior to the crash. Gladwell claims that more than 25 minutes before the crash, the first officer and the flight engineer noticed the danger signs and attempted to communicate to the captain--indirectly. But because the captain was tired, he was not properly engaged to understand the true intent of what the first officer and the flight engineer said. Gladwell claims that the first officer and the flight engineer finally spoke up directly with six seconds to go before the crash, and still did not do enough to challenge the captain. As Gladwell puts it, "in the crash investigation, it was determined that if [the first officer] had seized control of the plane in that moment [six seconds before the crash], there would have been enough time to pull the nose and clear Nimitz Hill."
What is wrong with this story?
* * *
First off, Gladwell carefully stacks the deck in favor of case by introducing ultimately irrelevant facts, and omitting potentially relevant facts. There are several instances of such legerdemain.
(1) To build a case that Korean Air was more accident-prone than other airlines, Gladwell begins with a history of KAL's accidents. Curiously, Gladwell leads off with KAL's 1978 crash of Flight 902. Cause of the crash? The plane wandered into the Russian airspace at the height of the Cold War, and the a Russian fighter jet shot it down, killing two of the passengers on board. Gladwell recognizes the unusual nature of this crash, yet blithely writes: "[The crash] was investigated and analyzed. Lessons were learned." As if Korean Air was supposed to learn how not to crash a plane based on an incident in which a military jet shot down its aircraft. (In fact, although the aircraft was severely damaged, it managed to make a landing, saving the remaining passengers who were not killed by the attack. So in a way, lesson learned, I suppose.)
Then Gladwell ticks off six more crashes between 1978 and 1997. Here, Gladwell completely neglects to mention that two of the crashes were caused by either military engagement or terrorism. Gladwell simply writes: "Three years after that, the airline another 747 near Sakhalin Island, Russia, followed by a Boeing 707 that went down over the Andaman Sea in 1987[.]"
In the first part of that sentence, Gladwell is referring to KAL Flight 007, which crashed in 1983. Reason for the crash? It traveled into Russian airspace, and the Russian jets shot it down. It is strange that Gladwell does not mention this, because the shoot-down of Flight 007 was one of the most significant events in the history of Cold War. Lawrence McDonald, an American Congressman from Georgia, lost his life on Flight 007. The shoot-down of Flight 007 quickly cooled the Russia-U.S. relations, which was showing signs of hope until that point. But apparently, Gladwell did not find this significant enough to mention.
In the second part of the sentence, Gladwell is referring to KAL Flight 858, which crashed after leaving Abu Dhabi. The reason for that crash? North Korean terrorists planted a bomb on that plane before it took off, and the airplane was incinerated mid-flight. One of the terrorists was actually caught in Austria as she was attempting to escape back to North Korea. (She currently lives in South Korea after a presidential pardon.)
So, out of the seven KAL crashes that happened in the 20 year span between 1978 and 1997, three were a result of a military or paramilitary attack. Those three crashes clearly have little to do with pilot skills. (One may make the argument that lack of pilot skills caused the planes to venture into Russian airspace. But in most cases, the consequence of being in the wrong airspace is not getting your plane shot down.) Yet Gladwell counts the deaths from all seven crashes to make the case that Korean Air was unusually dangerous, while neglecting to describe the true causes of two of the attacked planes.
At the very least, this is disingenuous. Further, that Gladwell would use incidents of terrorist attacks to pad the stats is darn near offensive. It is as if New York is being described as extra-dangerous in the early 2000s by including the number of deaths from the 9/11 attacks.
(2) Gladwell makes much of the fact that Korean culture emphasizes hierarchy, and argues that the captain is accorded more deference based on his rank. But anyone familiar with Korean culture knows that the professional ranking is not the only determinant of social hierarchy. Another determinant, for example, is age. Still another is the school class. Still another is the prestige of their schools, or military service.
Here is a relevant factoid that Gladwell does not discuss: in Flight 801, the captain was 44 years old and the first officer was 41. But the flight engineer? Fifty-eight years old. Nearly a decade and a half older than the captain. If you think that a Korean person in a professional setting would show any disrespect to a person who is 14 years older just because he slightly outranks the other, you know absolutely nothing about Korean culture.
Another relevant factoid? Both the first officer and the flight engineer graduated from Korea's Air Force Academy, while the captain learned to fly by undergoing officer training during his mandatory military service. As graduates from a volunteer academy that has rigorous admission requirements, Korean pilots from the Air Force Academy command decidedly more respect than the NCOs who eventually become pilots. Indeed, during the three years when the captain of KAL Flight 801 was serving his military duty, he would have been saluting the graduates of the Air Force Academy (i.e. his commanding officers), addressing them with the highest honorific in Korean language.
The only reason why Flight 801 captain ended up outranking the first officer and the flight engineer was because the captain made the jump to Korean Air first, and began climbing the corporate ladder earlier than the other two. But doing so hardly allows the captain to forget that at one point of his life, the first officer and the flight engineer outranked him. So again in this respect, there is little reason for the captain to be disrespectful to the first officer and the flight engineer.
Does Gladwell mention any of this? No.
(3) Throughout the chapter, Gladwell engages in several misquotations of the crash report. The most egregious case is when Gladwell writes: "in the crash investigation, it was determined that if [the first officer] had seized control of the plane in that moment [six seconds before the crash], there would have been enough time to pull the nose and clear Nimitz Hill."
The crash report is in fact publicly available. You can see it on the website of the National Transportation Safety Board. In the relevant part, the NTSB report states:
Analysis of the FDR data also indicated that, if an aggressive missed approach had been initiated 6 seconds before impact (when the first officer made the first missed approach challenge), it is possible that the airplane might have cleared the terrain.
(At p. 146, emphasis mine.)
What would have happened if the first officer reacted more aggressively six seconds before the crash? "It is possible that the airplane might have cleared the terrain." The two indefinitive words in the NTSB report mysteriously disappear when Gladwell declares confidently: "There would have been enough time to pull the nose and clear the Nimitz Hill."
(4) The NTSB report, helpfully, attaches the transcript of the events in the cockpit as an appendix. At p. 180 of the report, there is the entire transcript. And the transcript reveals a striking fact that Gladwell never mentions: 90 percent of the conversation among the three pilots is in English. In fact, the only part of the conversation that happens in Korea is idle banter, talking about how the company does not pay them enough or how Guam's airport must be staffed by former U.S. soldiers who were stationed in Korea.
This is in fact a common occurrence in professional settings in Korea. Because Korea did not develop many of the modern technologies on its own, Korean professionals learn how to use the cutting-edge technology with the original terminology (which is, in most cases, in English,) without bothering to translate them into Korean. When Korean professionals actually use the technology, they find themselves being more comfortable with simply using the English terms. The fact that a significant portion of Korea's professionals study abroad, usually in the United States, further reinforces this trend.
So for example, in case of an open-heart surgery, Korean surgeons communicate with each other in the surgery room using almost entirely English and Latin phrases--the same phrases that are found in American medical school textbooks. The same trend holds with airline pilots, only more so. Recall that airline pilots must communicate with the local airport in English. This means that it is a part of Korean airline pilots' job description to be proficient in English. As a result, Korea's pilots conduct most of their business in English, even with each other.
Take a look at p. 206 of the report, which shows the point at which the pilots initiate their landing check sequence, thinking that they must be near the airport. For the next five pages--which ends with the moment of the crash--the pilots are communicating almost entirely in English. At p. 206, for example:
Captain: Landing check.
First Engineer: Tilt check normal.
Captain: No flags gear traps.
Captain: Glide scope 안 돼나? [Isn't glide scope working?]
Captain: Wiper on.
First Engineer: Yes, wiper on.
This is the entire page of the transcript. It has one Korean phrase. There is no room for all the peculiarities of Korean language that Gladwell dutifully recounts. There are no honorifics, no indirect, suggestive speech. Just a series of regular English phrases that any airline pilot from any country may utter as he prepares to land.
Gladwell explains that the new COO of Korean Air, David Greenberg (a former Delta Air Lines executive,) solved all the difficulties caused by the ambiguous Korean language by requiring the pilots to speak only in English. Gladwell writes: "In English, [the pilots] would be free of the sharply defined gradients of Korean hierarchy . . . Instead, the pilots could participate in a culture and language with a very different legacy."
But Gladwell never reveals that Korean Air pilots were already speaking mostly in English, although that fact was absolutely plain from the transcript.
* * *
If all of the foregoing is careful (if transparent) deck-stacking, Gladwell's analysis of the pilots' conversation in Korean is an outright journalistic malpractice. Recall that Gladwell's central thesis is that Korean culture, expressed through Korean language, is not direct enough to efficiently communicate in the face of an impending disaster. To that end, Gladwell writes:
There is the sound of a man shifting in his seat. A minute passes.
0121:13 CAPTAIN: Eh... really... sleepy. [unintelligible words].
FIRST OFFICER: Of course.
Then comes one of the most critical moments in the flight. The first officer decides to speak up:
FIRST OFFICER: Don't you think it rains more? In this area, here?
The first officer must have thought long and hard before making that comment . . . [W]hen the first officer says: "Don't you think it rains more? In this area, here?" we know what he means by that: Captain. You have committed us to visual approach, with no backup plan, and the weather outside is terrible. You think we will break out of the clouds in time to see the runway. But what if we don't? It's pitch-black outside and pouring rain and the glide scope is down.
There is no nice way of saying this: this portion of Gladwell's writing is ridiculous in several ways.
First, the way in which Gladwell quoted the transcript is severely misleading. This is the full transcript, which goes from pp. 185 to 187 of the NTSB report:
CAPTAIN: 어... 정말로... 졸려서... (불분명) [eh... really... sleepy... (unintelligible words)]
FIRST OFFICER: 그럼요 [Of course] FIRST OFFICER: 괌이 안 좋네요 기장님 [Captain, Guam condition is no good]
FIRST OFFICER: Two nine eighty-six CAPTAIN: 야! 비가 많이 온다 [Uh, it rains a lot]
CAPTAIN: (unintelligible words)
CAPTAIN: 가다가 이쯤에서 한 20 마일 요청해 [Request twenty miles deviation later on]
FIRST OFFICER: 네 [yes]
CAPTAIN: ... 내려가면서 좌측으로 [... to the left as we are descending]
(UNCLEAR SPEAKER): (chuckling, unintelligible words)
FIRST OFFICER: 더 오는 것같죠? 이 안에. [Don't you think it rains more? In this area, here?]
Note the difference between the full transcript, and the way Gladwell presented the transcript. Gladwell only quoted the first two lines and the last line of this sequence, omitting many critical lines in the process. In doing so, Gladwell wants to create an impression that the first officer underwent some period of silent contemplation, and decided to warn the captain of the poor weather conditions in an indirect, suggestive manner.
The full transcript reveals that this is clearly not the case. The first officer spoke up directly, clearly, and unmistakably: "Captain, Guam condition is no good." It is difficult to imagine how a person could be more direct about the poor weather condition. Further, there was no silent contemplation by the first officer. Nearly three minutes elapse during this sequence, during the captain and the first officer chatted constantly. And it is the captain who first brings up the fact that it is raining a great deal: "Uh, it rains a lot." In this context, it is clear that the first officer is engaged in some friendly banter about the rain, not some indirect, ominous warning about the flight conditions.
This makes Gladwell's lengthy exposition of what the first officer really intended to say suspect, to say the least. But Gladwell gives a similar treatment to a statement by the flight engineer:
"Captain, the weather radar has helped us a lot," he says. The weather radar has helped us a lot? A second hint from the flight deck. What the engineer means is just what the first officer meant. This isn't a night where you can rely on just your eyes to land the plane. Look at what the weather radar is telling us: there's trouble ahead.
Gladwell goes onto explain: "Korea, like many Asian countries, is receiver oriented. It is up to the listener to make sense of what is being said." In other words, according to Gladwell, the listener must share the cultural context of the speaker to properly understand the true intended meaning of a statement.
Well, I happened to share the cultural context of the pilots of KAL Flight 801. I was born and raised in Korea until I immigrated to the United States at age 16. Since then, I have visited Korea numerous times, worked professionally in Korea, and currently interact with Korean professionals on a consistent basis. Most importantly, I speak, read and write Korean at a very high level. If you would like to see for yourself, you are welcome to read my analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the two gay marriage cases, published recently by a Korean media.
So by the power vested in me by Malcolm Gladwell, I declare: this so-called "interpretation" of the pilots' "true intentions" is pure garbage. It is so ludicrously wrong that I cannot think of enough superlatives to describe how wrong this is. Gladwell's exposition on Korean language is completely, definitely, utterly, entirely, 120% laughable to anyone who has spoken Korean in a professional setting. Koreans simply do not talk that way, period. True, Korean language is suggestive and indirect compared to English. But Malcolm Gladwell takes that factoid and stretches it beyond any recognition. It is the verbal equivalent of a Korean woman who, upon hearing that American culture is more tolerant of clothing that reveals more skin, decides to walk down the Times Square completely naked.
It is at this point that we see a glaring flaw in Malcolm Gladwell's entire analysis. Gladwell takes pain to build a case that Korean is a contextual language, in which the listener must be engaged for the context to understand the true meaning of a given sentence. Clearly, this type of communication requires a listener who is trained to listen for the context--in other words, a listener must be brought up within Korean culture, which would have made her practice listening with context, in order to correctly interpret the subtext underneath Korean expressions.
But if that's the case, why should we lend any credence to Malcolm Gladwell's explanation of the subtext of what Korean pilots of Flight 801 were saying? As far as I can tell, Gladwell does not speak Korean. He was not raised in Korea. He never spent any significant amount of time in Korea. He was not raised as a Korean. There is no other indication that Gladwell is somehow proficient in navigating the subtexts within Korean language. So, according to Gladwell's own logic, why should we believe anything Gladwell says about what Korean people say?
Here, we find a strange deficiency: the chapter does not feature any active Korean voice that is engaged with the subject. If Gladwell wished to follow his own logic about how Korean language operates, there was one simple way of conclusively proving his thesis: interview Korean pilots, and find those who agreed with his thesis. If Gladwell really believes that context is critically important in Korean, he would speak with the people who operate within that context, rather than substituting in his own interpretation. Yet in the chapter, Gladwell interviews a Sri Lankan pilot and an American blackbox expert, but not a Korean pilot. Gladwell does quote from a paper by a Korean linguist, but of course, the linguist was only observing the general features of Korean language--he was not opining on whether Koreans would keep up the propriety when they are about to die and kill hundreds of others, because they are about to crash the plane they are piloting.
This is inexcusable. At the time of Outliers' writing, Gladwell was already a world-renowned writer of The Tipping Point and Blink. One cannot seriously claim that Gladwell would have had difficulty finding a Korean pilot to vet his theory. Indeed, this entire chapter about the Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes is beneath the dignity of a respected public intellectual and one of the best-selling nonfiction writers of the last decade. Even under the most kindly light, Gladwell is guilty of reckless and gross negligence. Under a harsher light, Gladwell's work on the connection between culture and plane crashes is a shoddy fraud.
* * *
"What of it?", you might ask. "So what if Gladwell's methodology was faulty? Isn't Gladwell's initial thesis worth exploring? Isn't it still valid to ask whether culture plays a role in plane crashes? Isn't it still valid to ask whether Korean culture played a role in the Asiana crash?"
Sure, I suppose culture plays a role in every part of our lives, so it may be valid to ask whether Korean culture played some role in the Asiana crash. It may also be valid to watch two Canadian golfers hit a bad shot in two different occasions in a golf tournament, and wonder aloud whether Canadian culture played a role in those occasions. However, we do have to think about the quality of that question. If entertaining that question seriously wastes time and distracts from asking the more realistic and pertinent questions, the question is not worth thinking about.
Take a step back and think about where we are in the crash investigation. The crash happened less than a week ago. Experts agree that it may take up to a year to conclude exactly what happened. As of today, no one--not journalists, not the NTSB, not even the Asiana pilots themselves--really knows exactly what happened. All we have is tiny snippets of facts that may or may not be relevant, and may or may not be true.
Think also about why we are wondering about a culturalist explanation for the Asiana crash. Again, as of now, we know practically nothing about the Asiana crash. There is nothing to indicate that the latest crash is in any way similar to the 1997 crash of KAL Flight 801. The crashes happened in two different airports, with two different airlines, which hired two different sets of pilots, who operated two different types of aircraft. They are also 16 years apart. They are about as similar as two poor golf shots hit by two different golfers in two different holes of two different golf tournaments held in two different golf courses.
Yet we connect this crash back to the 1997 crash of KAL Flight 801 because ... they are both Korean.
Here, the danger of culturalism is made plain. Culturalism may not be the same thing as racism, but they share the same parent: the instinct to connect race or ethnicity to some kind of indelible essence. Because culturalism and racism are two streams from the same source, the harms caused by culturalism are remarkably similar to those caused by racism.
Like racism, culturalism distracts away from asking more meaningful questions, and obscures pertinent facts. A common meme in the current analysis of Asiana crash is that insufficient communication among the pilots can contribute to an accident, and Korean culture may hamper communication among the pilots. But is this correct? Read virtually any disaster report--be it 9/11 commission report or the BP oil disaster report--and you would find that lack of sufficient communication, particularly between the lower-ranked and higher-ranked staff, is a universal cause for a major disaster. Then does it make sense to focus on the culture of one particular country or a region, to address the issue of communication? Will doing so actually fix anything?
Like racism, culturalism puts a large group of people beyond rational understanding. No sane person would be willing to die for the sake of keeping up with manners--yet that is precisely what Malcolm Gladwell would have you believe about the 75 million Koreans around the world. If you are a non-Korean, and you believe Gladwell's claim, the inevitable conclusion is that it is not possible to have a rational interaction with a Korean person. They are just too... different. Korean culture renders a Korean person so different from any person who you have ever known, such that there is simply no common ground from which a human relationship may begin.
This is actually a feedback loop: culturalism causes alienation, which in turn causes more culturalism. Our willingness to buy into the culturalist explanation is directly related to to the way in which we perceive the subject of the explanation. It is not a coincidence that a culturalist explanation runs especially rampant with anything involving Asia. When a massive tsunami, followed by the Fukushima disaster, struck Japan last year, one could not take two (metaphorical) steps in the Internet without coming across a grand explanation about how Japanese culture contributed to the nuclear meltdown, or how Japanese culture enabled the Japanese to respond to the disaster with resolve. Yet no similar analysis ever emerged about American culture or British culture when the BP oil spill--one of the most catastrophic environmental disasters--occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. The supposedly earnest questions about Korean culture and Asiana crash are cropping up now, but when the Air France plane crashed in 2009, killing 216 passengers, nobody even wondered about the connection between the French culture and Air France crash. Why? Because Americans and Europeans are always accorded with the privilege of being treated as individuals, while Asians remain a great undifferentiated mass, unknown and unknowable.
And here, we come to the greatest harm that culturalism causes: like racism, culturalism destroys individual agency. Under culturalism, a huge group of individuals are rendered into a homogeneous mass of automatons, eternally condemned to repeat the same mistakes. We still don't know what exactly caused the Asiana crash. But it is hardly outlandish to think that it was a simple human error. To err is human, as they say--but culturalist explanation robs Korean pilots of this basic humanity. Because of our culturalist impulse, a Korean pilot cannot even make a mistake without tarnishing all other Korean pilots.
To progress is human as well. Even without Gladwell's deck-stacking, it is true that Korean Air had a spotty safety record. Like Korea itself, the airline grew extremely fast between the 1970s and 1990s. Because of its very fast growth, even subpar pilots got a job, and training became spotty. The Flight 801 crash in 1997 did serve as a wake-up call for KAL and Korean government, which regulates KAL. Korean government initiated an aggressive turn-around, and the safety record did turn around. As Patrick Smith of Slate put it, 2008 assessment by ICAO, the civil aviation branch of the United Nations, ranked South Korea's aviation safety standards, including its pilot training standards, as nothing less than the highest in the world, beating out more than 100 other countries. But if the culturalist explanation is to be believed, none of this matters. As long as Koreans remain Koreans, they will communicate poorly, and they will be more prone to plane crashes.
If the culturalist explanation is to be believed, the numerous differences between Korean Air and Asiana do not matter either. Korean Air is about as similar as Asiana as Microsoft is to Google. The long fight that Asiana fought to wrest the airline market out of the hands of KAL--which, until 1988, had a government-backed monopoly on Korea's air travel--is one of the most dramatic battles in Korea's corporate history. As rivals, the two companies have different business strategies, different foci and different corporate culture. In fact, the executives of Asiana would be positively offended if they were considered to be similar to the executives of Korean Air. But again, under the culturalist explanation, none of this matters: they are both Korean companies that hire Korean pilots that cause plane crashes.
* * *
This post is not to say that a culture is immune from criticism. Rather, this is to critique the way in which we deploy the cultural criticism. If we recognize that culturalism is ridiculous in the context of two bad shots by two golfers who happen to be from the same country, why do we fail to recognize the same when it comes to two plane crashes involving two airlines that happen to operate out of the same country? If we think it is valid to wonder if Korean culture factors into this plane crash, why were we never beset with the same curiosity about the French culture in the last plane crash? If it is so obvious to us that we would not sacrifice our lives, and the lives of hundreds of others, for the sake of good manners, why do we so easily believe that other people will readily throw away their lives for the same reason? Why did we buy millions of copies of a book, and nodded our heads reading it, when the book is making an outrageous claim about Koreans without interviewing a single Korean person?
Culturalism causes real harm. It obfuscates the truth. It creates a diversion from fixing the actual problem. It "other-izes" a huge number of people and make human connection with them impossible. It wipes away individuality, and condemns people to an impossible choice: deny who you are, or suffer the disasters--plane crashes, nuclear meltdowns--for all eternity.
It is high time we cut this out, and this Asiana crash is as good a time as any.
The Korean had thought the post about the Asiana crash and culturalism would get some readership, but hoo-wee. At over 24,000 pageviews today as of this writing, it is the most visitors that this blog has hosted on a single day. (The previous record was around 16,000, when the New York Times introduced this blog.) Although the Korean had said over and over again that this blog is strictly a hobby and he could care less about the number of readers, he is not so obtuse to make nothing of the time that so many people spent reading what he wrote. So everyone who read the post: thank you. Everyone who shared and commented on the post: thank you one more time.
The Korean attempted to make the previous post about culturalism and plane crash for focused and general reader-friendly, which meant that the post was lacking in many of the stylistic points and the inside jokes (including the Korean's constant reference to himself as a third person) which usually appear in this blog, as well as a lot of stray thoughts and asides. But no more of those shackles in this follow-up post! Here, the Korean will discuss his thoughts to the readers' reaction to the post, and also share some leftover thoughts.
(1) The Main Point of the Post. The Korean found that a lot of people misunderstood the main point of the post. The main point is not to argue that culture plays absolutely no role in plane crashes. Some commenters went so far as to claim that my point was culture does not affect behaviors at all--which is completely nuts. The Korean writes a blog that talks about Korean culture! Of course culture affects behaviors!
The main point is that we may encounter problems when we start thinking about culture as an explanation. To quote Abraham Maslow fully: "To a man who only has a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail." In this context, the Korean is not advocating that we stop using the hammer; he is merely advocating that we stop swinging that hammer at everything we see. If we are going to use culture as an explanation for anything, at a minimum, we have to know a great deal about the culture itself and be hyper-aware in which the culture interacts with a given situation. Otherwise, all the harms that the Korean described about culturalism result: obfuscation of truth, other-ization of people, and elimination of individual agency.
It is true that the Korean is rather skeptical about the "cultural" explanation of plane crashes. He is particularly so because the fountainhead of this cultural explanation of plane crashes, Malcolm Gladwell, did such a poor job in proving up his thesis. Also, because he knows that the desire to explain everything with culture flows from the same source as racism, the Korean is skeptical of people who insist that culture must absolutely be a factor, and are always in a hunt for some type of cultural answer. This is even more so because--let's be honest--there have been plenty of racist comments about the Asiana crash.
But being skeptical is not the same as being dismissive. The Korean's sense is that even if culture played a role in airplane crashes, it would be so miniscule that it should only interest the professionals of the airline industry searching for one more bit toward perfection, instead of serving as a significant contributing cause to any plane crash. But he remains open to reviewing all available evidence before making a final conclusion.
(2) Golf. Frankly, the Korean did not anticipate this. Many of the comments complained about how golf was not like flying a plane. Because golf is an individual sport, the argument went, it is not like a multi-person action like flying a plane. So the golf comparison was off-base.
This comment misses the point. The point was not to say that golf has the same level of cultural causation as flying a plane does. The point of using golf as an example was to illustrate how people never connect two far-flung data points (= poor shots) in golf just because of the golfer's nationality, but somehow people do the same with plane crashes that are also far-flung data points.
Any way you shake it, the comment does not make sense. Is the comment complaining that golf has no cultural causation, but flying a plane does? But culturalist explanations for golf are plenty. For example, many people ascribed Korean culture as a factor as to why there are so many dominant LPGA players who are either Korean or Korean-American. According to those folks, something about Korean culture might be in play when it comes to excellent female golfers. But does it mean that when Se-ri Pak missed a putt in the 13th hole of the Women's British Open in 1997, she missed it for the same reason that caused Inbee Park shanks a drive in the second hole of the 2013 Women's U.S. Open? Most people would say no. (By the way, that was a hypothetical. Don't go searching for what happened at Women's British Open in 1997.)
Or, is the comment complaining that, if a team sport was used as a comparison, a culturalist explanation would be more accurate? But there are so many examples of a culturalist explanation being embarrassingly wrong. Just one of them: in the 1950s, Jewish people excelled in basketball. Soon, a culturalist explanation developed--the Jews are good at basketball because Jewish culture encourages swiftness and cunning. Of course, we now know that such explanation is ridiculous. (Or alternatively, we moved onto a different culturalist explanation involving African Americans.) So, if so many of the culturalist theories about team sports are wrong, what makes the culturalist theories about plane crashes so correct?
(3) KAL Flights into Russia. This one, the Korean did expect some resistance. Many comments said KAL flights venturing into Russia during the late 1970s and 80s were also a pilot error, and it was fair for Malcolm Gladwell to count them as he was tallying up Korean Air's accidents.
The Korean disagrees. He will take the point is a navigation error is a serious pilot error. But the usual consequence of poor navigation into the wrong airspace is not that a military jet will appear and shoot your plane down. There is an obvious difference between wandering into the wrong air space and ramming into a mountain: the former, in most cases, does not lead to a plane crash and deaths.
But if you must insist otherwise, that's fine. This is a small point in the overall assessment of Gladwell's argument, so it is strange to see so many commenters get so hung up on it. In the Korean's mind, the greater problem was that Gladwell never disclosed the fact that two of the crashes that he counted were results of military or paramilitary attacks. At the very least, Gladwell could have let the readers decide if it was fair for him to count the three crashes as a part of KAL's safety record.
(4) More about Gladwell. One strand of thought that the Korean did not discuss about Malcolm Gladwell: the Korean cannot help but struck by the violent imperialism that is implied by Gladwell's argument. Technically, Gladwell's point is not that Koreans are forever chained to the destiny of crashing planes. His point is that Koreans can escape that destiny, as long as they stop speaking Korean.
This may not be a fair criticism, because Gladwell does not say that this should be applied to Korean people generally. After all, the chapter about the Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes discusses only Korean pilots, not Koreans as a whole. But it seems like a fair observation that Gladwell is presenting his theory with an implication that it has a broader application than airline pilots.
At this point, we are fairly deep into the realm of speculation, so the Korean will spare his words. He will only note that the idea of changing or replacing the native language to absorb a superior culture is nothing new. It has been around since the 19th century, when the Europeans and Americans began conquering the world with a sincere belief that they are better suited to run the various parts of the world than those who were already occupying those parts--which is why the Korean finds this implication unnerving.
(5) A Telling Incident. Today, Oakland's KTVU station reported that Asiana Flight 214's pilot names were: "Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, Bang Ding Ow." These are obviously fake names that smack of racism. And it is striking that KTVU, based in one of the most Asian-heavy regions in the United States, let that one be aired on television. Several people at KTVU must have looked at these names, and okay'ed their release via broadcast. How could this happen?
KTVU's excuse: the National Transportation Safety Board verified those pilot names. And the NTSB did! Apparently, a summer intern at the NTSB confirmed these names to the KTVU.
Now, my culturalist friends: what is it about American culture that contributed a local station with heavily Asian population to blindly buy the obviously false representation from the NTSB? Is there an inherent deference to authority in American culture that contributed to this gaffe? Let's hear it.
[b](6) Correction./b] Commenter Chris Kahn left very helpful comment, which is worth reproducing in full:
I'm a Korean too - I actually commissioned as an OCS (like the pilot of Korean Air 801) officer, and served as a naval officer on a ship and later as a UDT/SEAL in the Korean navy. I agree with your basic thesis that Gladwell is inexcusably sloppy and that culturalism is over-emphasized in covering the recent crash.
However, I do think that language was a contributing factor to the KA 801 crash - though such problems are not necessarily limited to Korean culture as the Challenger and Discovery tragedies, and the development of Crew Resource Management by NASA show.
First of all, I disagree with your description of the hierarchy of Korean military officers. In every day interactions, "seniority of commissioning date" is the overwhelming factor in deciding how to interact other officers, with actual age coming in as a modifying factor. Commissioning source (Academy or non-academy) heavily affects an officer's career trajectory and chances for promotion, but does not factor into the language hierarchy. Rank also does not affect the language hierarchy, which causes much cognitive dissonance and discomfort should a higher ranking junior officer work in close quarters with a lower ranking senior officer.
The senior pilot was commissioned in '75 and left the Air Force as a major in '87 while the first officer was Air Force Academy class of 26 which would mean he was commissioned in '78 and left the military as a Lt. Col. Hence, the pilot is unambiguously superior to the first officer. This is supported by the language in the transcript where the senior pilot uses the lowest form of speech (반말) to the first officer. From my personal experience, I have never seen any junior Academy officer fail to defer to a senior (in commissioning date) OCS or ROTC officer.
Second, the flight engineer is clearly much older and senior to both the pilot and the first officer. But there is another factor in play here - engineering is a secondary rating to flying and in the Korean military at least, there is a strong sense that you don't interfere with another officer's turf. Each specialty is highly silo-ed. For example, on the first ship I was on, the Chief engineering officer (Cheng) was senior to the Executive Officer (XO). Hence, at no point did our XO fail to acknowledge the Cheng's seniority, but in return the Cheng was conscientious about not overstepping the bounds of his specialty and interfering with the management of the ship.
So there were clear linguistic barriers to open communication within the cockpit of the KA 801. The first officer was junior to the pilot, and the flight engineer was used to keeping his hands off the realm of pilots.
Second, my own experience running exercises as a SEAL has shown that conventional Korean language hinders cooperation in time sensitive situations. For Close Quarters Combat exercises, where team members must work with each other within a room to clear it of "bad guys" safely, and where the situation and command structures are fluid, my unit has mandated that everyone speaks to each other in the lowest form of speech (반말) regardless of rank or age. Not only does this reduce the time necessary to communicate (since sentence endings are shorter), but it makes the junior members of a team much more likely to speak up when they see a corner that hasn't been "held" yet or a potentially dangerous situation.
Deference to authority is not a unique problem to Koreans (again, see NASA and Crew Resource Management), but I would argue that the Korean language structurally exacerbates the problem.
In the original post, the Korean pointed out that KAL Flight 801's captain would not be disrespectful to the first officer and the flight engineer because of their age and military pedigree. This comment provides more color, and raises the possibility that the first officer and the flight engineer would be deferential to the captain regardless.
The Korean is hesitant to take just one person's word for it, but he is willing to acknowledge a superior source of information. So here is the official correction: the Korean's point about the relative social ranks of the captain, the first officer and the flight engineer of the KAL Flight 801 may not be accurate.
(6) Further reading. The Korean hopes that he intrigued you about culturalism. He has previously written several posts about culturalism, and you can search for the word in the blog if you are interested in reading further. If he were to pick just one for recommended further reading, he would pick this one: Another Person's Room. Remember, there are always socks in a room. (You will get it after you read that post.)
TL;DR: Why is it that Asian cultures get blamed, but not French ones for French plane crashes, or American/British culture for oil spills? Srsly, what the fuck.
That's crazy. If he were another 10 ft lower, his tail would've touched the water. I can't imagine what would've happened if it touched the water and slowed the plane right down, and instead of the tail hitting the wall, the main fuselage hit the wall.
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Were Asiana Pilots Caught In The FLCH ‘Trap’?
By John Croft, Guy Norris
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
July 22, 2013
Credit: Australian Transport Safety Board
Highly experienced Boeing widebody pilots have independently determined that an autoflight mode called Flight Level Change may explain why Asiana Flight 214 hit the sea wall ahead of Runway 28L at San Francisco International Airport July 6.
The experts, including a Boeing 777 fleet captain, tell Aviation Week that entry into Flight Level Change (FLCH) during the approach would have caused the engines to remain at idle despite the pilots having set the autothrottles to maintain 137 kt., the target approach speed. One group of pilots has concluded this based on intimate knowledge of the 777-200ER's automation systems; the other by flying scenarios in a 777 simulator
Their analyses draw in large part on information presented in four NTSB briefings after the crash from pilot interviews and the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.
The NTSB revealed that the pilots were initially high and fast on the approach but rapidly decreased speed and altitude to intercept a visual glideslope to the runway. At 500 ft. altitude, the right-seat instructor pilot said he saw three red and one white precision approach path indicator (PAPI) lights—a set of four lights located near the intended landing markers that give pilots a visual glideslope—and realized he was slightly low. His speed, at 134 kt., was close to the 137 kt. target speed.
By 200 ft., however, the same pilot said he saw four red PAPI lights (significantly below glideslope) and noticed speed was nearing stall. At that point, he realized the autothrottles had not been keeping up. By the time the pilots added power, the aircraft was too low and slow, and in its high drag state could not climb fast enough to avoid striking the sea wall with its main gear and tail.
The NTSB says the engines and flight controls were responding correctly to inputs and there were no anomalies noted in the autopilot, flight director or autothrottle systems. Switches in the cockpit showed that the left and right autothrottles were “armed,” and the flight director was “on” for the right-seat and “off” for the left-seat pilot, who was at the controls for the landing. Experts say it is not unusual for a pilot to turn the flight director off on a visual approach to reduce clutter or confusing data on the primary flight display.
Based on the NTSB's forensic data, automation decisions earlier in the approach appear to be reasonable: Descending through 4,000 ft., the right-seat pilot said the aircraft was “slightly high” and he used the aircraft's vertical-speed mode to descend at 1,500 ft. per min. with the autopilot controlling. The left and right autothrottles were “armed,” and he correctly assumed the automation system would have controlled the speed to 137 kt. Pilots use the master control panel (MCP) at the top center of the 777's panel to select autonomy modes and input heading, altitude, speed and vertical-speed commands for the autopilot and autothrottle systems.
The 777 experts verified that the pilot's assumptions were reasonable in that respect—the vertical-speed mode uses pitch to control rate of climb or descent, and throttles, via the autothrottle system, to maintain speed. In the simulator, they found that even with the autothrottles “armed” but turned off, the vertical-speed mode would not allow the aircraft's speed to decay a significant amount before autothrottles “woke up” and maintained the preset speed. Boeing recommends setting the minimum descent altitude for non-instrument approaches in the MCP altitude window to ensure the aircraft levels off and maintains speed, though some airlines will set “0 ft.” in the altitude window, the experts say.
Closer to the runway, the mode control decisions are not clear. The NTSB says that during the final 2.5 min. of the flight, “multiple autopilot modes and multiple autothrottle modes” were commanded, according to the flight data recorder. During that time frame, the aircraft was descending at approximately 180 kt. through 2,000 ft. on a straight-in visual approach to 28L. At 1,600 ft., the NTSB says the pilots disconnected the autopilot, presumably to hand-fly the approach with the 137-kt. target speed entered into the “indicated airspeed” field on the MCP.
The 777 experts say the most plausible explanation for what happened next was that the pilots, intentionally or in error, selected the FLCH mode on the MCP with the target altitude set at 0 ft. or the minimum descent altitude. In a descent, FLCH reduces thrust to flight idle. The throttles will typically reengage when the aircraft reaches an altitude selected on the MCP, or if the aircraft's speed nears stall speed at radio altimeter heights greater than 100 ft. If the altitude was selected to zero, however, the throttles would have remained at flight idle as Flight 214's pilots increased pitch to remain on the glideslope, causing airspeed to drop below preset levels.
“Boeing is aware of this shortcoming, which in some circles is known as the FLCH 'trap,' and in its training course demonstrates the danger to pilots,” says one of the 777 experts. “The danger of the FLCH trap is that if the autopilot is disengaged and the aircraft levels off early . . . or the rate of descent is reduced, then the airspeed will decay because the autothrottle is temporarily out of the loop.”
I don't know why my fail button is missing in some of the responses, but remember this:
There is absolutely nothing in your goddamn luggage worth putting yourself, or the lives of other in jeopardy. It doesn't matter if your entire business or livelihood is in that suitcase.
You can start over. Dead people can't.
Yes Mr. Idealistic.
The truth is, people are driven by greed & selfishness in those times of extreme panic and chaos. You will likely see people willing to step on children if it meant that it could save their own life and their families.
I'm not saying that it's right, but you have to be realistic.
The truth is, people are driven by greed & selfishness in those times of extreme panic and chaos. You will likely see people willing to step on children if it meant that it could save their own life and their families.
I'm not saying that it's right, but you have to be realistic.
we'll I'd be the first to shove them out of my way with my foot.
trampling other people in a panic is one thing. stopping to grab luggage is another.